Bill would allow drug testing for welfare recipients

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Current state law in Rhode Island allows for cash assistance to be provided to struggling, qualified Rhode Islanders who need the help.

But if a needy Rhode Islander applying for, or currently on, public assistance tested positive for drugs in a random test, they’d lose their assistance, under a bill sponsored by Republican state Sen. Elaine Morgan (District 34, Charlestown, Exeter, Hopkinton, Richmond, and West Greenwich).

The Rhode Island General Assembly announced last week Sen. Morgan’s proposal that testing positive for controlled substances could revoke assistance for up to a year.

“If working Rhode Islanders’ tax dollars are being used to fund this program, the people who accept this money should be subject to the same random drug testing they might encounter in the workplace,” Senator Morgan said.

There’s plenty of provisions for special circumstances under the proposal. Dependent children’s benefits would not be affected, and medical marijuana use would be permitted. And after a positive test, if a constituent underwent a drug treatment program, he or she could re-apply for assistance after six months.

The proposed bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Judiciary.

At least 15 states have enacted drug testing or screening similar to Morgan’s proposal.

Some advocacy groups, including the ACLU, are against drug testing as a condition of eligibility for public assistance — the ACLU calls it “blatently unconstitutional”; providing a drug sample “is simply a violation of the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures,” said Steven Brown, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island.

The National Conference of State Legislatures has noted federal laws prohibit states from imposing additional eligibility criteria on recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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